The United Methodist Church is an international organization concentrated in the U.S.A. and descended from the 18th-century Methodist revival in Britain and Pietism in Germany. Following John Wesley, it emphasizes divine initiative (grace) in the redemption of the human condition, the possibility (with God’s help) for every human being to live a life of unselfish love, and the importance of creating a more just global society than the one we have now.
Its General Conference meets once every four years and speaks officially in The Book of Discipline and The Book of Resolutions. Annual conferences regulate its clergy and carry out its mission in particular geographic areas. Bishops appoint its clergy to congregations or groups of congregations or ministries beyond congregations.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, The United Methodist Church and its predecessor denominations became one of the largest organizations in the United States and included members from many of the diverse American peoples. Histories of the denomination have focused on institutional history and the history of the clergy. But church historians have hardly taken the measure of the lay membership. For example, as I try to show in We Are Yet Alive: United Methodists in the History of North Dakota and South Dakota, ancestors of today’s United Methodists, other Protestants, and Catholics transformed the Great Plains into one of the most productive wheat-growing regions on earth.